Wednesday, 13 April 2016

A Sense of Place--The Adirondack Park

Having lived just outside the boundaries of New York State's Adirondack Park most of my life, it has had a profound impact on me, both as a source of natural wonder and as inspiration for my writing. I'm not alone in this. Many writers have absorbed the wonders of the natural world here and used it in their work. Writers like Anne LaBastille, Harold and Adam Hochschild, Barbara McMartin, S. R. Stoddard, Philip Terrie and Bill McKibben. And many others cut their political and activist teeth in the fight to protect this vast wilderness. Leaders like Howard Zahniser, Laurence and Nelson Rockefeller, Paul Jamieson, Clarence Petty, Frank Graham Jr. and Alfred L. Donaldson. These are just a handful of names in a list that could encompass many hundreds if not thousands of others.

The Adirondack Park requires a constant infusion of new writers and activists to describe and protect the Park and to inspire new generations to appreciate our natural heritage here in New York State. Throughout its often tumultuous history, saviors have appeared at crucial moments to fight the forces that insist on exploiting this great resource. At various moments, forest fires, logging, commercial development and political expediency have threatened the Park. But public and private watchdog agencies have, mostly, risen to the challenge. Still, vigilance will always be necessary, for nothing in this world is forever, least of all the constitutional provision that the park remain "forever wild." There will always be those driven by greed who will constantly probe the limits of our protections, constitutional or otherwise.

Like many writers, I began by relating my wilderness experiences inside the Adirondack Park in newspaper columns, book reviews, essays, articles, books and even the odd encyclopedia entry. My first decades as a writer were heavily influenced by the Adirondacks, by the people who lived there and by those who worked to increase awareness and appreciation through their creative efforts as writers, artists, craftsmen and photographers and by the activists and bureaucrats who labored in the trenches. The great wilderness advocate and writer, Edward Abbey, whom many consider the father of the modern environmental movement, once wrote about how much he admired those who did the hard work of protesting, marching, writing letters to editors and confronting politicians. He admired those people much more than those who simply wrote about it.

A number of years ago, I described the efforts of the radical environmental group, Earth First! to declare that the Five Ponds Wilderness Area south of Cranberry Lake should be completely off-limits to man. I wrote: "I could not disagree more strongly. I believe it is possible for people to visit these areas with minimal damage if--IF--they are not allowed to use motorized vehicles and if other backcountry rules, such as proper disposal of wastes, careful tending of fires, and so forth, are followed. But if no one is allowed to see a beautiful place, how long can it be before there is no one left to care about it? Out of sight, out of mind. Then the only people who know about the spot are those who disobey the rules and go there on their dirt bikes and in their 4 X 4s. A pristine river that people can see develops fierce partisans who will fight to keep it that way. A river no one can see only develops developers.

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